There are two Britains – the public sector and the private sector. Today the Times tries to make out that Councils are about to experience the same bleak prospect for jobs and sackings as private industry and the retail sector, but so far there is no evidence that the public sector faces the same dreadful pressures, or is under any kind of imperative to work more efficiently and effectively.
I do not wish to see sackings in the public sector to match the ghastly situation in the private sector, but I do want to see natural wastage and other means used to manage the public sector to greater efficiency. Parliament continues to set a poor example under this government. We are only just back from three and a half weeks holiday over Christmas and the New Year. On Monday business collapsed just after 8 o clock from a 2.30pm start, and last night Parliament only managed to keep going until just after 6 pm from a 2.30pm start. Officially we were meant to work until 10pm.
We were not allowed to debate the big issues of the day. I wanted to make a speech about how to start to sort out the banking crisis. I wanted to cross examine the Chancellor about the state of the economy. Instead we were told we had to discuss placing a new local business rate or tax on the private sector to pay for more Council spending on Monday, and yesterday the whole day’s debate was given over to a scheme to encourage people on benefit to save by offering them more public money which all parties in the House supported. With such a crashing lack of leadership and with such insensitivity to the plight of the nation, it is no wonder people think poorly of the present Parliament.
I had to listen to the radio and read the papers to hear of the new class war the government wishes to fight. We were not treated to a statement or debate on that important subject. Presumably Labour decided it would not play well if it had to withstand criticism and questions from MPs with a range of differing views on the problem. The government apparently thinks the professions and the military are refusing to appoint people to jobs from modest backgrounds out of some misplaced middle class solidarity. If they turn this into a full blown war against those who have worked hard and who are well educated it will coarsen life in the UK, not strengthen the fabric of our society. As someone who wants to see wealth and opportunity spread more widely I am quite sure attacking what works is not the answer. If the government is too unpleasant to those who do a good job it will just strengthen the exodus of talent from these islands.
I felt so strongly about all this that I sent a letter to Alan Milburn this week urging him to remedy the obvious barriers to success for brighter children from poorer backgrounds that we can see in our state schools and our family policies. As Czar of social mobility he has an important job, but not one which reports to the Commons, allows him to make Ministerial statements or more importantly allows us to cross examine him on what he is saying and doing. His appointment is all part of the post Parliamentary spin world which this government finds is its natural comfort zone, where ideas can be lodged for the news cycle and denied a day later. They live in a virtual world where soundbites and press releases create the good life effortlessly, often without bothering to implement the underlying policy properly.
The sorry progress of the private sector can be seen in announcement after announcement of closures and job losses. Demand has fallen disastrously for many companies. The public sector lives in a different world, where each year budgets go up automatically and Council Tax and Income Tax payers are told they just have to pay up. People who only work in the public sector find it difficult to grasp what it is like to work for an organisation where the annual income can fall, let alone for one where the income may reduce by a quarter or more when a savage downturn like the present one hits. If the best Parliament can do in such circumstances is to discuss putting an extra tax on business and then go home early, no wonder there is a feeling of injustice between the two Britains.
(Recent job losses include Woolworths 27,000
Rolls Royce 1500
Marks and Spencer 1200